- Extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani affected 1.5 crore people in nine districts of Odisha since making landfall near Puri on May 3, 2019 morning.
- It was the strongest tropical cyclone to strike the Indian state of Odisha since Phailin in 2013.
- Though IMD and Odisha government did a good job, but could have done better. It also raise the debate over Disaster preparedness in the country.
- A natural disaster is an act of nature of such magnitude as to create a catastrophic situation in which the day-to-day patterns of life are suddenly disrupted.
- People are plunged into helplessness and suffering, and, as a result, need food, clothing, shelter, medical and nursing care and other necessities of life.
- Disaster is dynamic, and with the climate change situation, the intensity and frequency of disaster is changing.
- Learning its lessons from the super-cyclone of 1999 which claimed 10,000 lives in Odisha, the eastern state has, over the years, emerged as a role model in disaster preparedness.
- With decades of positive intervention by the government, civil society groups, and NGOs, the state has received praise from numerous national and international organizations, including the United Nations.
Disaster Management: Structure at National Level
- The NDMA is the central policy making body for disaster management. Under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, it has an Advisory Committee comprising experts in the field of disaster management.
- The National Plan for disaster management is meant to include measures for disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness, responsibilities of different Ministries, etc.
- It is to be prepared by the National Executive Committee (NEC) and approved by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
- Under the Act, the NEC is responsible for coordinating response in case of a disaster, preparing the National Plan for disaster management, monitoring implementation of disaster management guidelines, etc.
Disaster Management: A system that works in Odisha
In 2013, when cyclone Phailin rattled the Indian coasts, the government of Odisha undertook the largest ever evacuation, shifting 11 lakh people into safety.
The state stood strong as rains lashed the landscape, and death toll was contained to 21. Next year when cyclone Hudhud hit Odisha, the death toll was contained to just two.
Actions taken by the state government
- The Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA) was established in 1999, much before the Disaster Management Act was passed in 2005.
- OSDMA was the first disaster management authority centre established in India, or perhaps the world, given its scale of operations.
- Odisha, along with Assam, Gujarat, and Bihar are the only states with active State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs).
- These states have their own offices, management, and staff. In most states, SDMAs are still being run out of the State Revenue Department Office, which is a temporary arrangement.
Developing manpower, infrastructure, and skill
- Across the vulnerable areas of Odisha, OSDMA has built close to 800 multipurpose cyclone and flood shelters.
- These shelters are in line with designs proposed by IIT Kharagpur. These silted structures have open spaces in the ground floor for water to fill in as people take shelter on the first floor.
- All vulnerable regions in Odisha have active Cyclone Management Centers, which are community-based organizations with the local Sarpanch as the president.
- At each centre, young volunteers have been trained in rescue operations.
- OSDMA has raised 20 units of Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF), comprised of highly trained personnel with multi-disaster tackling capabilities. They are trained in tackling floods, building collapses, cyclones, biological and nuclear disasters.
- The state government has also constructed the State Institute of Disaster Management (SIDM) at Gothapatna to train officials, personnel of the ODRAF, fire department, and people living in vulnerable areas in disaster management.
Alertness is the key
- Odisha plans to create a network of weather forecasting doppler radars across the state. The ones in Gopalpur and Paradip are already operational, while two more radars are planned in Balasore and Sambalpur.
- The fishermen are the first to be alerted. “There are radio announcements made a week prior to the onset of the cyclone. The moment the cyclone starts building in the Bay of Bengal, the government starts announcing — keep clear, keep clear.
- In case of river floods, OSDMA receives information 24-48 hours prior to the disaster.
- Odisha has recently implemented its ambitious Early Warning Dissemination System (EWDS).
- Using the mechanism, OSDMA can activate sirens across 122 towers operational across the state’s 480 km coastline, alerting the population at the press of a single button
In contrast to the above pointers, it is pertinent to discuss The Public Accounts Committee's report submitted on December 10, 2015.
Key Findings then: also remains true of the situation prevalent now
- Disaster Planning: There was a seven year delay, from 2006 to 2013, in finalizing the National Plan. The Committee stated that the plan should be updated on time and this has to be a comprehensive yet regular exercise.
- Role of NEC: It is required to meet at least once in three months. However, the audit found that it had met infrequently even when there had been disasters. The Committee recommended that the NEC either meet more often to better perform its role, or delegate its responsibilities to another authority.
- Functioning of NDMA: Under the Act, it is to have an Advisory Committee comprising experts in the field of disaster management. It was noted that the constitution of Advisory Committee has remained an ad-hoc exercise.
- Funding arrangements: The Committee noted that the centre, states and districts had not constituted Mitigation Funds from which money could be utilized on disaster preparedness, restoration, etc. The Committee recommended that these Funds be constituted at the national, state and district levels urgently so that mitigation activities may be pursued.
- Communication technology: Projects undertaken for strengthening the communications network for disaster management were either at the planning stage, or were delayed.
- Disaster Response: The Committee noted that in 2012, 27% posts in the National Disaster Response Force(NDRF) were vacant. As of now as well, key functionaries' posts are vacant.
- Disaster specific preparedness: With regard to floods, the Committee observed that there were several deficiencies in the forecasting infrastructure. These include non-functional telemetry systems (used for measurement and communication) and absence of dedicated communication facilities in forecasting stations.
While domestic capabilities are unevenly adding up, at global scale, India is striving its best to align itself with the higher standards.
The “Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030” was adopted during the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Sendai, Japan.
UNISDR supports the implementation, follow-up and review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
UNISDR’s vision is anchored on the four priorities for action set out in the Sendai Framework:
- Understanding disaster risk.
- Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk.
- Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience.
- Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Disaster management: India is not completely ready
- After every disaster, its aftermath and adverse impacts raise a lot of questions about the status of preparedness.
- Following the Uttarakhand floods in 2013 and Kashmir floods in 2014, it was only after a lot of questions were raised and criticism directed at preparedness practices that flood forecast stations were set-up in these two states.
- High-tech warning systems on the ground will not be useful until the authorities, key stakeholders and communities are trained to act upon the information obtained from these facilities.
- Different stakeholders need to come together for mapping risks, vulnerabilities, and resources; engage in regular preparedness actions like drills and capacity building; develop and update emergency plans; check the availability of resources at the local level; and act upon early warning intimations.
- While the government works towards strengthening systems and mechanisms for preparedness and response, civil society has a major role to play, at the community level, for disaster preparedness.
India continue to follow a relief-centric approach despite enforcing Disaster Management Act, 2005 which focuses on preparedness. Analyze the need for investing in disaster preparedness and mitigation across the country, taking a cue from Odisha model.